There are a few kilometres and a decade between long, lean Aussie Zak Dempster winning Commonwealth youth championships on the track in 2004 and riding the biggest race on the planet. Despite palmares as diverse as the Bendigo Madison, a Tour of Japan stage and Scotland’s Easter ‘Doon Hame’ stage race the man from Castlemaine is still only 26 years-old.
This is his second Grand Tour and he rides in support of NetApp Endura team mate, Czech Leo Konig who’s looking to secure the pro continental squad a top ten finish.
PEZ: How does the Tour compare to the Vuelta, Zak?
It’s harder, more stressful, no disrespect to the Vuelta but the field quality is higher and it’s sometimes savage racing. But there’s a more strictly defined hierachy with less guys having freedom – every one has a job to do for their team leader.
PEZ: The English stages?
Hard! I knew some of the roads from my days racing in England with Condor – the Richmond GP is in that area. The Sheffield stage was like a mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the first five days it was like a Classic every day – a big bunch on narrow roads with everyone wanting to be at the front and keep out of trouble.
Their were just so many people roadside in England, the stages in France have seen less spectators – in England I just don’t think they understood the speed despite the ASO advertising. It was a tragedy waiting to happen with people in the road and us bowling along at 50/60 kph . . .
PEZ: Has the race found it’s rhythm, now?
Yeah, to start it was like the Tour of Britain, then it was Paris-Roubaix and now it feels like the Tour de France.
Crazy! My job was to look after Leo, stay with him, lead him into the cobbled sectors as far as I could. I did that and rode the last few cobbled sectors as easy as possible, I made sure I ate and got with a gruppetto.
If you’re doing my job then you have to take any opportunity not to “go for it” – you have to save energy so you can do your job the next day.
We lost David de la Cruz and Paul Voss is riding around with a broken nose and two broken fingers – they’re impossible to avoid. It’s the biggest race in the world and you have 22 teams all highly capable and wanting results – it’s stressful.
As far as respect from World Tour teams when it comes to positioning, I’d say we ‘sort of’ get it – and more so with Leo in the top ten. Obviously I wouldn’t do anything to get in the way of Greipel’s train; but some of the smaller teams do things that I wouldn’t when it comes to looking for position – you have to say to guys; ‘who’s your best rider on GC, mate ?’
Konig is doing a great job for NetApp-Endura, currently stitting in 9th overall
PEZ: Your hardest moment?
The Izoard stage, I rode the descent into the climb and the first five K hard but there were still 12 K to go and I was in a group with the sprinters. That was my darkest day – but surviving like that is acceptable if you been doing something for the team before it and not just totally fighting to survive.
PEZ: How are you recovering?
I’m definitely tired but I’m all right – it’s certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’m not at a point where I’m wasted.
No one has found any chinks in his armour, there’s no Froome, no Contador and Richie Porte wasn’t going to do it. Actually, when Froome crashed the day before he pulled out I thought it was finished for him; it didn’t look good and although we didn’t know it – he’d broken bones. It’s a shame, Chris is a nice guy.
When Contador crashed, our man Machado went down too – we were chasing to get back to a gruppo when Tinkoff and Contador went flying past. Now I know he was out climbing me whilst he had a broken leg !
PEZ: And you have a new sponsor?
Yeah, they’ve been a medium sponsor with the team since the word ‘go.’ We won’t really notice any difference until 31st December although they’re on the jersey sleeves, already.
PEZ: How did the rest day go?
I slept in, had a UCI blood control, breakfast, a little ride on my own – I missed the team ride due to the control – then I went to the beach with some friends. They had beer – I had a Coke!
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.